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October 13, 2010 / Notmaker

DJ Hero 2 Ad: Best Accidental “Safe Sex” Ad ever?

So, Activision’s newest ad campaign for DJ Hero 2 just came out a couple days ago, headlined by the TV ad after the break.  On the surface, I can totally understand the intended thrust of the ad, where DJ Hero 2 is an entertainment experience that allows its players to express, collaberate, and just generally have fun experiencing the music they mix together (in a post-Rock Band world, it’s the only way to fly).  However, the secondary implications of the ad are a bit unfortunate.

The first few seconds of the video are pretty good as far as the advertising message.  They set up the tone of the party, the use of the game to make music (immediately recognizable to anyone who has ever played a Harmonix game).  The idea has pretty much already been entirely presented, it just needs to be reinforced.

First, we have the tattoo transfer.  This is a pretty cool-looking effect with a well-thought out idea; tattoos, as a sociological concept, are ultimately tribal, signifying the joining of an individual into a group identity, be it “rebellious teens” or “guys who love their moms”.  In this case, the tattoo is reinforcing the idea that players can combine who they are, sharing their identities with one another.  Every new tattoo wearer reinforces the group.  So far, this is great stuff, driving the point of the ad home.

It’s on the next effect, with the mouth-to-mouth braces transfer, that we start running into problems by association.  Aside from possibly invoking nightmarish high school flashbacks, there seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of the act.  Namely, the last thing you want to think about is the contents of your partner’s mouth.  “Swapping spit” tends not to be used as an alluring or sanitary description.  The ring effect is even worse,  starting calmer but then jumping straight to an 11 on the freak-out-o-meter when it becomes an instantaneous lip piercing.  Piercing someone else’s immediate belonging to any body part seems like it would be seriously prone to infection.

By the time we get to the freckle transfer, which is shown as if the first girl wiped her face and then flung the particulates of sweat and skin detritus at her dance partner, the message at the beginning of the ad, which was about the game, has been almost entirely overcome by the idea that when your children go out, they will hook up, and come back with “freckles” all over their skin.

At this point, all you’d have to do is take a page from beer commercials, and stick a Trojan logo with the phrase “Have Fun.  Practice Safe Sex” under the game logo, and it would be a dual ad.  Heck, you could just replace the game logo with a Trojan logo entirely, and keep everything else the same, and it would be a great ad (for a different product).

Activision should see this as an opportunity.  Imagine a partnership deal with Trojan; Trojan-sponsored DJ Hero 2 parties to celebrate the game launch.  The (apparent) target market is right, the game gets exposure and boosts sales, Trojan increases their brand equity, safe sex is promoted, and given where this ad seems to go, there are no downsides for Activision in being associated with this message.  You want us to have fun and stay safe?  The horror….

Update: After a couple onsite and offsite comments, I think some clarity into some things I now realize were quite vague is in order.  I do not think that Activision is promoting a risky lifetsyle or kind of behavior.  “Promoting” is a very strong word implying, bare minimum, a relationship of some kind, when Activision’s only interest is selling their games.  Likewise, this ad won’t contribute to the fall of modern youth.  High school seniors and/or college students don’t really need any help in that regard. 😛

All I’m really trying to point out is that the metaphorical imagery of this ad can be very reasonably and easily interpreted as something else, and that the choices by Activision (and their ad agency) to make particular images the arresting center of their ad severely dilutes the focus of the ad from their product and becomes more about the ad itself.

As I mentioned in the comments, consider their excellent Guitar Hero World Tour ad starring Heidi Klum.  If anything, the sexual imagery in this ad is more blatant, really having nothing to do with the game at all, and containing scarcely more actual game footage than the DJ Hero 2 ad.  However, she never lets go of the distinctive guitar controller.  For at least 90% of the ad, the controller is dead-set in the middle of the image, and the TV she’s playing draws your attention because its a completely different color from the entire rest of the room.  Despite not even attempting the relative subtlety of the sexual vibe in the DJ Heros spot, it is impossible to think of this ad as anything but an ad for Guitar Hero, and that makes it a much better ad.



Leave a Comment
  1. m. scott veach / Oct 25 2010 1:29 pm

    um, no offense intended but i have to say that your reaction to this ad says a lot more to me about your particular anxieties than it does about society, sex education or marketing.

    trading tattoos, braces, lip rings and freckles makes you squeamish? seriously?

    i mean you’re not completely wrong. is it a metaphor for sex? yes. is it cool and sexy? check. does it promote reckless behavior? umm, this is where you lost me.

    the magical-realism of the ad doesn’t prescribe amateur lip piercing in your parents’ basement anymore than need for speed suggests kids find out if the family car can hit 185.

    • Notmaker / Oct 25 2010 3:14 pm

      It’s a fair point, but I think you missed the main idea.

      I agree that the ad is not going to make kids do anything they weren’t already inclined to do. This isn’t a “degradation of society” kind of critique, but more a critique of allowing the metaphorical imagery in the ad, which is intended to emphasize the mixing feature of the game, to become the main draw of the ad. The ad itself could be easily used, as is, for a different product similarly related to the very themes that the visual imagery was clearly intended to evoke.

      It’s not that the ad is promoting risky or unsanitary behavior (and I grant I could have been a it clearer about this), but that the imagery in the ad referring to that behavior dominates a spot that is supposed to be about a game whose presence in the spot is so negligible that it could be easily overlooked and interpreted as something else.

      Consider Activision’s ad campaign for Guitar Hero using Heidi Klum getting her Tom Cruise on (and all its iterations). Obviously Ms. Klum is supposed to be the big, sexy, visual draw. Similarly to the DJ Hero ad, not much game footage is visible. But she never lets go of the distinctive guitar controller; in fact, it’s pretty much front and center for 90% of the ad (even in the PG-13 “director’s cut”). There is no point where that ad could be about anything besides playing Guitar Hero, even though, just like the DJ Hero ad, it uses sex as a draw.

  2. midhun muralidharan / Jul 15 2011 3:07 am


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